The French Laundry, Per Se by Thomas Keller

The French Laundry Per Se

What’s the USP? Recipes and stories from a pair of three Michelin-starred American restaurants. The book appears 20 years after the publication of the original The French Laundry cookbook and serves as a kind of update and elaboration as it now also covers sister restaurant Per Se.

Who is the author? Thomas Keller is one of America’s best known and most decorated chefs. He holds three Michelin stars at The French Laundry in Napa, California and at Per Se in New York. His other restaurants include Bouchon Bistro and Bouchon Bakery in both Yountville California and Las Vegas and The Surf Club in Miami. His glamorous, upscale TAK Room restaurant, opened in the mid-town Manhattan Hudson Yards development and inspired by classic American cuisine from the 40s and 50s, closed in August 2020 after just one year of trading, a victim of the pandemic.  He has also been a consultant to Hollywood, working on the  animated film Ratatouille and the Adam Sandler comedy Spanglish. He is the author of five previous cookbooks, publisher of Finesse magazine and has his own Masterclass. He has recently been the subject of a Trump-related Twitter controversy that has seen the chef delete his account on the social media site. At the time of writing, he remains active on Instagram.

Is it good bedtime reading? Given it’s size and weight – The French Laundry, Per Se is a great big, beautiful book – it won’t make the most relaxing bedtime reading material. Better then to enjoy it sitting in your favourite chair with a nice glass of Californian red (in homage to The French Laundry’s location in the heart of Napa Valley wine country) and appreciate the thousands of words carefully crafted with the help of leading food writers Susie Heller and  Michael Ruhlman.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Let’s have a look at the very first recipe in the book shall we? Smoked Sturgeon Rillettes on an Everything Bagel. No problem, apart from the smoked sturgeon, Reglis Ova caviar (Keller’s own brand, available online for US only delivery), Argumato lemon oil and onion blossoms. Opening the book at random, I land on Hiramasa with Apple Vierge. First, catch your hiramasa (sushi grade Australian Yellowtail Kingfish, available online in the UK from The Fish Society) then track down some Champagne vinegar and Marcona almonds and you’re good to go.  Elsewhere, expect ingredients such as foie gras, spiny lobster, and Alaskan king crab. Things get ludicrously specific with Venison Rack Roasted Over Grapevines that not only call for 1.5kg of ‘dried grapevine knots’ but ‘250g of dark raisins, dried on the vine, preferably from Paradigm Winery’. Thankfully, not all the recipes are this tricky to negotiate and, with some common sense substitutions, you should be able to attempt a number of dishes from the book.

What’s the faff factor? These are recipes from three Michelin-starred restaurants so they were never going to be a walk in the park for the home cook. They will take time, money, effort and concentration, but they are far from unachievable if you have the resources and will to make them.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Six books in and with the help of some of the best food writers in the business, this is not an issue. Keller is a proponent of sous-vide cooking, but has include full alternative ingredient lists and methods when appropriate so if you don’t happen to have a vacuum sealer and immersion circulator in your kitchen, it’s no biggie.

How often will I cook from the book? When you have the time and inclination; for example, during a pandemic. Even a simple sounding – and looking – bowl of Red Pepper Farfalle lists 38 ingredients, not counting those included in the three additional satellite recipes you’ll need to make to complete the dish. A few simple soup recipes aside, this is not a book for weeknight cooking.

Killer recipes: Smoked Montana Rainbow Trout Chaud-Froid; Celery Root Pastrami; Salt-and-Rye-Baked Lamb Neck; Malted Brownies among others.

What will I love? The premium look and feel; the numerous essays that cover everything from a treatise on fine dining to the importance of bread and butter; the gorgeous food photography by Deborah Jones.

What won’t I like so much? Before embarking on the majority of recipes, you will have to take some time to consider if you can source the necessary ingredients, and if not, will the dish still be worth making with replacements. You’ll also want to weigh up if the dish, which may only be a mouthful or two, is worth the cost and effort required. It’s worth bearing in mind that the recipes in the book are the product of a very well staffed and resourced kitchen and that the resulting dishes will be sold at a significant profit on menus that cost upwards of $350 a head, none of which applies to the home cook who will be left with a much depleted bank account and a mountain of washing up.

Should I buy it?  For many professional chefs working in the fine dining arena, The French Laundry, Per Se will be an essential purchase. The same will be true for serious hobbyist cooks and restaurant enthusiasts. For those simply in search of a practical recipe book that will be put to regular use, look elsewhere. 

Cuisine: American/Progressive
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
French Laundry, Per Se, The (Thomas Keller Library)
£60, Artisan

Cook from this book
The Whole Bird
Fish and Chips
Peaches ‘N’ Cream

The Hand and Flowers Cookbook by Tom Kerridge

Hand and Flowers Cookbook by Tom Kerridge

What’s the USP? A brief history of and recipes from the world’s only two Michelin starred pub.

Who is the author? Chef Tom Kerridge has recently become known for his dramatic weight loss and series of diet-friendly TV shows and books including Dopamine Diet, Lose Weight and Get Fit, and Lose Weight For Good. His real claim to fame however is as proprietor of The Hand and Flowers pub in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, the only two Michelin starred restaurant in the world. He also runs The Coach, The Shed and The Butcher’s Tap in Marlow, Kerridge’s Bar and Grill in London and The Bull and Bear in Manchester. He is also the founder of the Pub in the Park, a touring food and music festival. Earlier in his career, he worked for such British restaurant luminaries as Gary Rhodes and Stephen Bull in London and David Adlard in Norwich.

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s a chunky introductory section telling the story of the pub, chapter introductions and full page introductions to all of the recipes, making the book a very enjoyable read. As a restaurant nerd, I would have loved to have read about Kerridge’s career before opening the Hand in 2005. As a good proportion of the book’s audience is bound to be professional chefs who would be equally interested to read about Kerridge’s rise through the ranks to stardom, it seems something of a missed opportunity. We can only hope there’s an autobiography in the works.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Specialist ingredients in the book include Alba white truffle oil, agar agar, foie gras, squab pigeon, caul fat, veal tendons, Sosa Airbag Pork Granet, Sosa Antioxidant gel powder, meat glue, lamb sweetbreads, pig’s head and trotter and meadowsweet among others. There are plenty of far more mainstream ingredients too, although if you are going to go to the trouble of attempting these recipes you’ll want to head to your butcher, fishmonger and greengrocer rather than rely on standard supermarket gear.

What’s the faff factor? If you want to prepare a complete dish with all it’s  various elements – for example lemon sole grenobloise made up of stuffed lemon sole, brown butter hollandiase, brown bread croutons, confit lemon zest, crisp deep fried capers and anchovy fritters – then you need to be prepared to put in some serious kitchen time. For many home cooks, probably the best way to approach the book is to pick and choose between the constituent parts and either make a simplified version of the dish with just the key elements or take the recipe for a garnish, such as the famous Hand and Flowers carrot that’s braised in water, sugar, butter and star anise, and use it to accompany something simple like a roast, grill or stew. The good news is that many of the recipes for the individual parts are relatively straightforward and it’s the quantity of constituent elements that make cooking a complete Hand and Flowers dish daunting for non-professionals.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes?   There are the usual suspects such as a  squeeze of lemon, sprig of thyme or half an onion (how big is an onion? How long is a piece of string?) and one dish calls for meat glue but gives no quantity. However, you should have no problems with the vast majority of the recipes.

How often will I cook from the book? Will you be knocking up a torchon of quail with crispy quail leg and verjus everyday? Probably not. But you might well find yourself making the ‘Matson’s sauce’ (a ‘super-posh’ chip shop curry sauce named after Kerridge’s favourite fish and chips shop) that goes with it pretty regularly. Ambitious home cooks will find much to inspire them, and may well turn to the book  when planning a celebratory meal, a dinner party or just to indulge in a weekend of hobby cooking. But as previously noted, a close reading will reveal a treasure trove of sides and sauces, as well as some achievable main elements that will ensure the book won’t permanently reside on your coffee table and will get regular use in your kitchen.

Killer recipes: Smoked haddock omelette; crispy pigs head with black pussing, rhubarb and pork crackling; fish and chips with pea puree and tartare sauce; halbut poached in red wine with bourguignon garnish; slow cooked duck with duck fat chips and gravy; braised shin of beef with roasted bone marrow, parsnip puree and carrot; sweet malt gateau with malted milk ice cream and butterscotch sauce.

What will I love? If you know the pub, you’ll be glad to see all the classic dishes have been included and that the book’s claim to be a definitive collection of the pub’s recipe is an accurate one. At over 400 pages, the book has a pleasing heft, the design is colourful yet classic and elegant, and the food photography by Cristian Barnett is simply stunning.

What won’t I like so much?  If you’re after more of Kerridge’s diet friendly fare, you are definitely barking up the wrong butter, cream and foie gras-laden tree.

Should I buy it? If you are a fan of Tom Kerridge’s restaurants and want to challenge yourself in the kitchen, this is the book for you. It will also be of particular interest to professional chefs.  

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
The Hand & Flowers Cookbook
£40, Bloomsbury Absolute

Cook from this book
Smoked haddock omelette
Slow cooked duck
Vanilla crème brûlée by Tom Kerridge

Home Style Cookery by Matty Matheson

Home Style Cookery by Matty Matheson

What’s the USP? A comprehensive guide to cooking at home with ideas and techniques from a top restaurant chef, covering everything from bread to cake with dips, dumplings, curries, pies and much else in between.   

Who wrote it? Matty Matheson is a Toronto-based chef and restaurateur and former roadie for heavy metal band At the Mercy of Inspiration. Until  2017, he was executive chef of Parts and Labour and sister restaurant P&L Burger. He has his own food and drink festival Matty Fest that launched in September 2019.

Matheson’s career took off in 2013 when he recorded the Hangover Cures and Keep It Canada series of videos for the Munchies YouTube channel which led to the Vice TV channel series It’s Suppertime and Dead Set on Life (both of which are available to view for free in the UK on the ALL 4 website here and here). In early 2019, he launched of his self produced web series Just a Dash on his YouTube channel which now also features a Home Style Cookery that includes recipes from the book such as The Inedible Seven-Layer Dip (and no, that’s not a typo, just typical Matheson humour). 

At the age of 29, Matheson suffered a heart attack after a sustained period of alcohol and drug abuse but eventually became sober. His larger than life personality and post-modern approach to food television that simultaneously celebrates and undercuts the form can be seen in this video, recorded for Gozney ovens website where he demonstrates his mother’s broccoli-chicken cheddar curry casserole, the original recipe for which, he says in the book ‘was probably on the side of a can or a box’ (it’s also a glorious dish). This is the follow up to his debut ‘A Cookbook’. You can read our five star review here

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? If you’re in the UK, you may want to substitute cheddar for the American cheese in the pickled hot pepper queso and braised beef ribs recipe. It won’t taste the same, but otherwise you’ll need to stump up around £25 to buy a pound of the stuff from Amazon. You may also need to find an online retailer for the Oaxaca cheese in the same recipe.

Matheson uses Kosher salt throughout the book. Although common in the US, it is less easy to get hold of in the UK, although it is stocked by specialist online suppliers (this article on souschef.co.uk explains exactly what it is and why chefs love it). If you can’t find it, then you may have to adjust the amounts specified in the recipe as kosher salt crystals are larger than table salt so you may not need as much.

Otherwise, you shouldn’t have any trouble at all tracking down what you need; these days, you can even buy Indonesian chilli and dried shrimp sambal oelek (used in a recipe for yuzu cucumbers, among others) from Waitrose. 

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Despite being aimed primarily at the North American market, gram and ml equivalents are given for the many cup measurements  which makes this book eminently usable in the UK. You will need to be aware of not getting lost in translation with some of the terms used however; American granulated sugar is the equivalent of UK caster sugar, rutabaga is swede etc. 

What’s the faff factor? Matheson says that ‘I’ll admit that maybe my first book was selfish because I didn’t worry about people cooking from it’ and it’s certainly true that some of the recipes were unashamedly restaurant territoy. For this follow up, it’s obvious that he’s taken more care to ensure the dishes are more achievable for a home book. You’ll still encounter some things like leek and mackerel terrine that wouldn’t look out of place on a posh restaurant menu and with multiple elements that need bringing together and require some skill to do so. That said, there is also a recipe for macaroni and tinned tuna casserole, so there’s something for everyone.  

How often will I cook from the book? Matheson is all about big bold flavours, comforting carbs, cheese and all the ‘bad’ things. He’s the Anti-Deliciously Ella and thank fuck for that. There are many, many tempting recipes (see below) and Home Style Cookery will definitely get plenty of use if you like Matheson’s style (and I really do), but maybe just not everyday.   

Killer recipes: I could just list every dish in the book, but stand-outs include molasses bread in an apple juice can; roti; burn your tongue Caesar salad; fingerling potato supreme; oxtail and mirepoix pierogis; green curry beef ribs; Nashville hot halibut sandwich and molasses cookies stuffed with dulce de leche. 

What will I love? Although it would be wrong to say this is the only cookbook you’ll ever need – it doesn’t quite have the same scope as Home Cookery Year for example – at 368 pages, Matheson has packed a lot in and pretty much delivers a dish for every occasion, drawing on a wide range of global culinary influences in the process.     

What won’t I like so much? If you’re on a diet, this book is not for you. 

Is it good bedtime reading? In addition to the two-page introduction, there’s a one page intro to each of the 12 chapters (bread; stocks; vegetables; dips, purees and spreads; dumplings and pasta; curries, soups and a stew; sandwiches; fried foods and cast-iron cookery; roasts, bakes and a pie; smoked; grilled and desserts). Don’t skip the recipe introductions; they are full of nuggets of food lore, tips, mini-memoirs and Matheson’s trademark humour.    

Should I buy it? Matty Matheson is one of the most exciting and original voices to have emerged on the cookery scene in the last five years or so. His first book was a must buy. This one is even better. That makes it a must-must buy. Probably. 

Cuisine: Canadian/International
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
Matty Matheson: Home Style Cookery
£25, Abrams

Cook from this book
Coming soon

Home Cookery Year by Claire Thomson

Home Cookery Year by Claire Thomson

What’s the USP? Less of a unique selling point, and more of an all-encompassing approach to the cookbook, Home Cookery Year is a 400 page, 200+ recipe doorstop tat seeks to offer seasonal ideas for every possible situation, from midweek dinners to elaborate dinner party feasts.

Who wrote it? Claire Thomson, who has made something of a habit of releasing practical, down-to-earth cookbooks over the past five years. Her first title focused on cooking for families, and last year saw her release New Kitchen Basics, which offered a wide range of recipes based around ten classic ingredients.

If you’ve come across her this year, though, chances are it will have been during lockdown. Her 2017 title The Art of the Larder is one of the most informative titles on store-cupboard cooking available, and likely saw a healthy boost to sales around the tail end of March. It’s also the book that first introduced me to Thomson – albeit one that I didn’t enjoy as much as I’d expected to. Rather than re-invigorate the store-cupboard, it frequently reminded me of how drab tins and dried pulses can be. With that in mind, I find myself approaching this new book rather tentatively. Thomson has been inspired, she says, by the ‘evergreen’ cookbooks her mother had (‘and still has’) on her shelves. Paired with a title that Thomson herself admits is more honest than fashionable, I’m ready for a collection of practical, if dull, recipes.

This is heading for a delightful twist, isn’t it? Oh, you know me so well. The book’s an absolute bloody delight. Thomson’s straight-forward approach and practical application of her expertise means that from the outset, tHome Cookery Year is a joy to navigate. Though she has aspirations towards the simple, accessible and everyday cooking of all your mum’s favourite TV chefs of the 70s, her taste buds are firmly of the moment. This is an old-fashioned cookbook in spirit only.

Home Cookery Year is set out seasonally, with a chonker of a chapter for each season. These are split further, to allow the reader to find recipes that fit the bill whether they’re looking for a quick midweek supper, a budget meal from the larder, something a little more luxurious, and so on.

What’s the faff factor? Everything in the book is built towards accessibility. With a few (very rare) exceptions, you’ll be able to get all the ingredients from your local supermarket. Thomson’s recipes are straight-forward, even when they yield beautifully complex dishes and flavours. Even the recipes under the ‘leisurely weekend cooking’ headings are only listed as such because of the time they take, or the mess they’ll make.

How often will I cook from the book? Look, this is not something I get to say very often, but here goes: you could cook from this book every single day for a year and not get bored. The depth and variety within these pages is astonishing. Take Autumn, for example: the midweek offerings alone include comfort foods with a twist (Smoked Haddock with Curry Butter & Poached Egg), international staples (Goan Green Chicken, Nasi Goreng) and quick, simple recipes that are bound to impress anyone (Fig Leaf Pilaf with Aromatic Tomato Sauce & Toasted Almonds). The store cupboard dishes roam from an unctuous Cavolo Nero Polenta Soup to Sichuan classic Dan Dan Noodles.There are inspired takes on classic game recipes, simple yet irresistible desserts by the dozen and, most outrageously of all, a recipe for Duck and Damson Bao that is as good as anything I have in my healthy collection of far more specialised Chinese cookbooks. And that’s just Autumn.

Killer recipes: That Duck & Damson Bao, obviously. But also the Fried Potato Masala Toastie, or the Pasteis de Nata, which I am thrilled to finally have a decent recipe for. Or hey, how about the Crab Gnudi with Butter Baked Cherry Tomatoes & Tarragon. I put down the book and went to the other room to tell my wife about the Beer-brined BBQ Chicken with Mustard & Miso Mayonnaise Sauce. She was very understanding.

The desserts alone deserve a separate paragraph – the Cherry, Marshmallow & Dark Chocolate Chip Cobbler, the Peach & Dulce de Leche Cake, the Blackberry & Bay Brownies made with Rye. Look, there’s over 200 of these bad boys in here, and I honest-to-god reckon I’d eat every damn one of them.

Should I buy it? Oh god, like, twice over, at least. One for you, and one for anybody in your family who loves to cook. Because here’s the thing: with Christmas coming up faster than any of us are truly comfortable with, the bookshops are filled with brand new cookbooks vying for your attention. And this year, like every other, the big names like Nigella and Jamie are going to get the lion’s share of the sales.

Fun fact: I’ve worked in a bookshop at Christmas, and I’ve seen the absolute demolition of cookbook stock that happens on Christmas Eve. But the problem with gifting cookbooks is that you either have to go broad, which means celeb chefs, and the risk of giving your mum her third copy of the new Ottolenghi, or you need a deep insight into their personal tastes and their specific desire for a particular cuisine. This book lets you opt firmly for column A, whilst avoiding the obvious titles and throwing in some unexpected regional dishes to boot.

With Home Cookery Year, Claire Thomson has created exactly what she intended to: a five-star all-rounder that you will be using on a weekly basis for years to come. This is accessible, exciting cooking at its very finest, and though it’s up against bigger titles and starrier names, it might just be the best cookbook to give without discretion this Christmas.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
Home Cookery Year: Four Seasons, Over 200 Recipes for All Possible Occasions
£30, Quadrille Publishing Ltd

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Brighton-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas.

Japanese Cooking for the Soul

japanese cooking for the soul_fc_100%

What’s the USP? A collection of 70 Japanese dishes ‘inspired by’ chefs from the Hana Group (the name behind 14 Asian food concepts that’ll you’ll find in supermarkets and other retailers around the globe including Sushi Gourmet, Wok St and Poke-Lele) that celebrate the Itadakimasu ritual of gratitude and reflection.

So, spirituality meets global commerce? Sounds grim. Yeah, probably best to ignore the veneer of mindfulness that’s been applied to the faceless, corporate behemoth that’s behind Japanese Cooking for the Soul to try and make it look more human (spoiler altert: they failed) and stick to the meat of the book which is the rather good recipes.

They’re authentic then? I think we’ve all agreed authenticity is a problematic and nebulous concept when applied to food in the modern global age haven’t we? Or maybe we’re about to roll all of that back and enter a new age of puritanism. In any event, some may raise an eyebrow when they discover that the recipes have been written by former Good Housekeeping Cookery Editor Emma Marsden. If you insist on your Japanese recipes being written by a chef or food writer from Japan or of Japanese heritage, then this book is not for you. If however you’re in the market for an approachable selection of dishes that include sushi and maki; teppanyaki and noodles; poke and Japanese salads; gyoza and dim sum; robata, ramen and tempura, as well as some desserts, then you can’t go far wrong.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? You will need to find a fishmonger who deals in sushi-grade fish if you want to tackle salmon and tuna sushi or cristal salmon rolls, but you’ll find most, if not all of what you need at the supermarket. Online stores like Sous Chef will be able to fill in any gaps.

What’s the faff factor? By their very nature, things like sushi or shumai dumplings will take a bit of care and attention and the assembly of various elements, but there are plenty of straightforward dishes like grilled salmon in balsamic onion glaze and stir fried rice with chicken that you can knock up on a work night without too much sweat.

How often will I cook from the book? It’s easy to imagine the book becoming well thumbed and food splattered in no time at all. It’s full of delicious and achievable dishes suitable for quick mid-week diners, and for when you want to spend a bit of hobby-time (is that a thing? Lets assume it is) in the kitchen and prepare a feast.

Killer dishes: Pork and cabbage gyoza; yakitori chicken skewers; beef ramen; prawn tempura with spring onions; teppanyaki duck and many more.

Should I buy the book? If you don’t have any other Japanese cookbooks in your collection, this will serve as a fine introduction to the subject. If you want to delve much further into the cuisine, try Japan:The Cookbook. But at fifteen quid, or less if you click on the link below, this is something of a bargain and a purchase you won’t regret.

Cuisine: Japanese
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Japanese Cooking for the Soul: Healthy. Mindful. Delicious.
£14.99, Ebury Press

A Table for Friends by Skye McAlpine

What’s the USP? A celebration of communal eating, offering up advice and recipes that will allow you to host the perfect dinner party!

Wait a moment. Are we supposed to be having dinner parties at the moment? Oh, Christ. It’s complicated, isn’t it? I think so. I think we can host dinner parties as long as only one other household is invited.

What if I make everyone sit in the garden? Well, given we’re in September now, so you’d look like a bit of a tyrant. 

I’m lost. Yes, we’re all a bit lost here. Look, the general vibe is yes, you can host a dinner party, but no, you probably shouldn’t. I doubt Bloomsbury were planning for a global pandemic when they commissioned Skye McAlpine’s latest cookbook though.

Skye McAlpine? The Times columnist and daughter of the late Baron McAlpine of West Green, yes. Real salt-of-the-earth type. This book reads, funnily enough, a little like a modern take on the society handbooks of old. No etiquette guidelines, thankfully – but plenty of ideas on table setting, menu planning and why you should skip on starters (too formal, apparently). 

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s plenty to be getting on with in the opening chapter, where McAlpine runs through all of the above, champions the napkin, and encourages us to place bowls of fruit and veg on our table for decorative purposes (‘gnarly lemons’, red onions and – in a move that was also popular with colonial Britons – pineapples). Beyond here, though, we’re in standard cookbook territory: chapter and recipe introductions, and idyllic claims about the ‘wonderfully renaissant quality’ of a potato dish, or the ‘virtues of a good Tuscan bread salad’.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Nope – McAlpine does do a fantastic job of making sure almost every ingredient you could possibly need will be readily available at your average supermarket. Occasionally you might want to try a butcher instead, but for the most part you’ll get by just fine with off-the-shelf cuts.

What will I love? The way the book is split up is rather brilliant, with sections for mains (rather gratingly referred to as ‘stars’ because they ‘look and taste extravagant and impressive’), sides, sweets and extras. The first three of these chapters are then divided based upon the mode of preparation – ‘throw together’, ‘on the hob’ or ‘in the oven’.

McAlpine also puts a lot of work into helping you to create a cohesive menu for your socially-distanced/morally-inadvisable/maybe-just-happening-in-the-distant-future dinner party. Most recipes finish with suggestions for possible accompanying dishes, and an extensive section at the end of the book suggests set menus based on loose themes, seasons, the number of people attending, or how long you have spare for prep. It makes a book that might otherwise seem a little overwhelming a great deal more accessible.

What won’t I love? McAlpine’s decision to skip out on starters makes sense once you realise that the section would have nabbed many of its dishes from the mains anyway. Several of the salads and soups here feel like they’d have been a better fit as a starter than a ‘star’ course, and the Carpaccio of Figs with Lardo, Honey & Rosemary is clearly better suited to being a side, or perhaps even finger food for when your guests first arrive. Also, and this is a very personal thing, the fennel and parmesan puree is no doubt delicious, but looks like a giant platter of baby food.

Killer recipes: It’s all very Italian here, continuing McAlpine’s love for the food she grew up with in Venice. Highlights include the Tagliatelle Gratin, which looks like a cross of carbonara and macaroni cheese, and the Salted Honey Ice Cream – four words I am very happy to see together.

Should I buy it? This is by no means an essential cookbook – but it will be very welcome for a select demographic. In a lot of ways, A Table For Friends covers the same ground as Diana Henry’s popular How to Eat a Peach from a couple of years back. Whilst Henry’s title arguable offered a more varied and interesting selection of dishes, McAlpine’s is much more practical a tool for the dinner party host, and offers myriad mix-and-match options for dishes (where Henry instead presented a collection of pre-curated set menus).

If you are one to regularly host dinner parties, and are looking to serve light Italian-influenced dishes, you can do no wrong here. If you’re looking to cook for two, frankly, there’s still plenty of adaptable recipes that would more than work for a Tuesday night (and that handy index-by-time at the back will help you find which ones fit the bill). Ultimately, though, I’d have liked a wider catalogue of influences to draw ideas from. There are three recipes for roasted potatoes, two roast chickens (and a roast poussin to boot) and three or four tomato salads, depending on how you’d like to call it. There’s a lot here to like, but this is definitely a cookbook that requires a quick browse in the shop to determine whether it’ll fit your needs, your tastes, and your personality.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Brighton-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas.

Buy this book 
A Table for Friends: The Art of Cooking for Two or Twenty
£26, Bloomsbury Publishing

Cook from this book
Sicilian Couscous Salad by Skye McAlpine
Spaghetti with creamy lemon sauce by Skye McAlpine
Berry Cloud Cake by Skye McAlpine